COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s plan to re-open its facilities to athletes on June 8 seems like a positive first step on the long road to the return from the COVID-19 shutdown.
The NCAA’s Division I council cleared the way for that step Wednesday, voting to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts by football and basketball players effective June 1
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith believes allowing players to return to campus is the safest option for those players’ health. Ohio State athletic facilities have been closed to players since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel that the facilities we have, with the protocols we can put in place relative to symptom checks and cleanliness and all those types of things — is the best protective environment,” Smith said. “A lot of health clubs and workout places, spas and gyms, do an excellent job. Some young people are not in environments with access to those facilities.
“We have access to the state-of-the-art equipment, we have medical people, (athletic) trainers, and we want to continue to make sure they’re in the safest environment possible. We feel we can provide education, resources — some of them don’t have access compared to where they are.”
Smith, who believes the Buckeyes could safely play home games with 20,000 to 30,000 fans in its 105,000-seat stadium, said Ohio State will vote for an extension of the Big Ten’s team activities band through June 30, but is in favor of allowing voluntary, non-organized workouts.
Regarding the June 8 target date, Smith does not envision a full-scale return to campus for all players.
Some Buckeyes remain on campus or will soon return to housing that has already been arranged. From there he expects a “staggered” return of the rest of the team. Some players, especially those with access to good workout equipment and specialized training, will opt to remain at home.
Those who do opt to return to Columbus will face the same guidelines as staff members who returned to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center earlier this week.
Coronavirus testing will not be mandatory. However, symptom screening and temperature checks will be required. Depending on the medical opinion of those handling the screening, players may be asked to self-quarantine if they exhibit symptoms or have recently contacted someone with symptoms.
Smith said while the Woody occupies approximately 15,000 square feet, a maximum of 10 players at a time could use the facility. He said internal approval from Ohio State must also precede players returning in June.
Smith said a group of up to 10 players would work out, then they would level, the room would be cleaned and another group would come on. That process could repeat several times per day.
While Smith supports these measures, he also said the reopening could be shut down if necessary.
“We feel pretty confident that through our symptom checks and hygiene implementations should be fine,” Smith said. “Obviously if someone gets sick we’ll turn to our medical staff and give us guidance on what to do next.”